About the Pond and Swimming

The first major project undertaken at the newly purchased Pobiz Farm was the creation of the pond. The story begins in March of 1963 with Victor observing a “naturally wet, pond-like area” up the hill and to the west of the farmhouse. The marsh was cleared of trees and brush and excavation began in July of 1963. By November of 1963 the pond was just 4 feet away from being full, just as everyone had predicted. Victor’s first engineering challenge was a complete success and the pond became the “epicenter of the up-country haven.”

The video entitled “Pobiz Pond – An Invented Puddle” includes photos depicting the building of the pond, Maxine’s poetry and recent photos of the pond. Click the image on the right to view the video.

Maxine had been a swimmer since very early in her childhood. She became a water safety instructor at her summer camp and was on the swim team for all 4 years of her Radcliffe College days, captaining the team in her senior year.

The subject of swimming would be visited and revisited by Maxine quite frequently in her poetry. An early poem, “Junior Life Saving” from her first book of poetry, Halfway (1961), is about teaching life saving techniques. The same subject is tackled in “The Lower Chesapeake Bay” from Still to Mow (2007).

Her most famous and iconic poem, “Morning Swim,” was first published in The New Yorker in 1962 and included in two collections of her poetry: The Privilege, 1965 and Up Country, 1972. In the video, Maxine can be heard reciting “Morning Swim” from a reading that took place on December 14, 1965.

 

  • JUNIOR LIFE SAVING

    JUNIOR LIFE SAVING

    (from Halfway, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1961)

    Isosceles of knees
    my boys and girls sit
    cross-legged in blue July
    and finger the peel
    of their sun-killed skin
    or pick at the splintery boards
    of the dock. The old lake
    smiles to a fish
    and quiets back to glass.

    Class, I say, this is
    the front head release.
    And Adam’s boy, whose ribs
    dance to be numbered aloud,
    I choose to strangle me.
    Jaw down in his embrace
    I tell the breakaway.
    Now swimming in the air
    we drown, wrenching the chin,
    clawing the arm around.

    The magic seeps away.
    My heroes frown to see
    a menace in the element
    they lately loved.
    Class, I say (and want
    to say, children, my dears,
    I too know how to be afraid),
    I tell you what I know:
    go down to save.

    Now two by two they leave
    the dock to play at death
    by suffocation.
    The old lake smiles,
    turned my children down,
    half held by half
    ordaining they let go.

  • THE LOWER CHESAPEAKE BAY

    THE LOWER CHESAPEAKE BAY

    (from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007)

    Whatever happened to the cross-chest carry,
    the head carry, the hair carry,

    the tired-swimmer- put-your- hands-on- my-shoulders-
    and-look- in-my- eyes retrieval, and what

    became of the stride jump when you leap
    from impossible heights and land with your head

    above water so that you never lose sight
    of your drowning person, or if he is close enough, where

    is the life saver ring attached to a rope
    you can hurl at your quarry, then haul

    him to safety, or as a last resort
    where is the dock into which you tug

    the unconscious soul, place him facedown,
    clear his mouth, straddle his legs and press

    with your hands on both sides of his rib cage
    to the rhythm of out goes the bad air in

    comes the good and pray he will breathe,
    hallowed methods we practice over and over

    the summer I turned eighteen to win
    my Water Safety Instructor’s badge

    and where is the boy from Ephrata, PA
    I made out with night after night in the lee

    of a rotting boathouse at a small dank camp
    on the lower Chesapeake Bay?

  • MORNING SWIM

    MORNING SWIM

    (from Where I Live – New & Selected Poems 1990-2010, W.W. Norton, 2010)

    Into my empty head there come
    a cotton beach, a dock wherefrom

    I set out, oily and nude
    through mist, in chilly solitude.

    There was no line, no roof or floor
    to tell the water from the air.

    Night fog thick as terry cloth
    closed me in its fuzzy growth.

    I hung my bathrobe on two pegs.
    I took the lake between my legs.

    Invaded and invader, I
    went overhand on that flat sky.

    Fish twitched beneath me, quick and tame.
    In their green zone they sang my name

    and in the rhythm of the swim
    I hummed a two-four- time slow hymn.

    I hummed "Abide With Me." The beat
    rose in the fine thrash of my feet,

    rose in the bubbles I put out
    slantwise, trailing through my mouth.

    My bones drank water; water fell
    through all my doors. I was the well

    that fed the lake that met my sea
    in which I sang "Abide With Me."

  • SUMMER MEDITATION

    SUMMER MEDITATION

    (from Jack, W.W. Norton, 2005)

    It isn’t gunfire
    that wakes me
    but the rat-a- tat-tat
    of hickory nuts raining
    on the tin roof
    of the trailer barn.
    Then the barred owl
    in the blackness, calling
    for company, who
    who cooks for you-u- u?
    and suddenly
    it’s morning.

    In the bathroom
    the tiny phallic
    night light
    still flickers.
    Black spots
    of gnats, moths
    folded in slumber
    with one swipe
    of the washcloth
    reduce to powder.
    An earwig to flush.
    Two mosquitoes
    lurking in the shower.
    Killing before
    breakfast

    and killing after:
    Japanese beetles
    all green and coppery
    fornicating on
    the leafy tops
    of the raspberries
    piggybacked
    triplets and foursomes
    easy to flick
    into soap suds.
    Their glistening
    Drowning selves
    a carpet of beads unstrung
    spit Bad Buddhist!

    At the pond
    naked, pale
    I slip between
    two shores
    of greenery
    solitary
    back in the murk
    of womb while
    there goes mr. big
    the brookie
    trailed by mrs. big
    wispy silhouettes
    darting in synchrony
    past the deep pool
    by the great rock

    the great rock
    that is always dark
    on its underside
    the one I used to dive
    from, aiming to come up
    in the heart
    of a cold spring
    rising exultant
    time after time
    into the fizz
    of lime-green light. . . .

    At sundown the horses’
    winter hay arrives.
    The dogs raise
    an appropriate racket.
    Always the annual
    hay supply comes
    at suppertime
    on the hottest day
    of August.

    Eddy and Tim, oily
    with sweat, grunt
    bucking hay
    heaving
    40-lb. bales up
    crisscrossed like
    Pick-Up Sticks
    so air can circulate.

    They stand around after holding their elbows
    that noncommittal
    Yankee gesture
    that says friendship
    same as last year.
    We chat, exchange
    town gossip
    the usual, except
    Eddie’s son
    is in Iraq.

    Afterward
    the sweep-up.
    Hay clings to everything
    like rumor.
    The full barn
    cries summer, a scent
    I suck into myself.
    Big red sundown
    induces melancholy.

    I want to sing
    of death unbruised.
    Its smoothening.
    I want to prepare
    for death’s arrival
    in my life.
    I want to be an advanced thinker—
    the will, the organ donation,
    the power of attorney—
    but when my old
    dead horses come
    running toward me
    in a dream
    healthy and halterless
    —Gennie, Taboo, and Jack—
    I take it back.

    If only death could be
    like going to the movies.
    You get up afterward
    and go out
    saying, how was it?
    Tell me, tell me how was it.